Main Dishes – Chicken Casserole

Feed My Starving Children

Last Saturday, I took a group of youth and parents to Feed My Starving Children, in Aurora. There were 23 of us from Redeemer, a great number in my estimation. But we weren’t the only ones there.

Along with probably 100-150 other volunteers, we split up around various tables packaging food into “manna packs,” a blend of rice, soy, veggies, and vitamins. These are sent to various places in underdeveloped parts of the world.

In the packaging room, we noticed that some of the groups around us seemed more exuberant, more joyous in their packing than we did. Jacob said, with a wry smile, “Yeah, our youth group is kind of angsty.” Jacob has this wit, this subtle humor that makes me hours or even days later smile a little to myself. He’s right: we are kind of angsty.

And isn’t that okay? We’re Lutherans, for crying out loud. As my friend Sherri said, “We Lutherans repress our feelings and bring a dish to pass at the potluck.”

Chicken Casserole

We Lutherans do love our potlucks, and our casseroles, don’t we? Or rather, those of a previous generation surely did. My mom made a salmon casserole that I remember, sadly, with much disdain. I eat fish at least once a week now, but I’m not wild about any noodle-y, creamy, crunchy additional ingredients.

Anyhow, despite my being down on casseroles, dishes like this make for an easy family meal, as Kathryn found when she cooked this chicken casserole (p. 42) for me! She cut up the chicken before cooking to make it easier to serve. Great idea!

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And here is the finished product:

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Nice one, Kathryn! Thank you for your willingness to help me get through these last few recipes. 🙂

 

Cookies – Meltaways

Random questions I wonder about while watching football

Are referees really small people, or are the football players just that huge in comparison?

How hard is it, really, to make a field goal? I mean, those goal posts are pretty far apart.

How do coaches and players put up with the cameras in their faces? HD TV doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

Is it embarrassing for these men to wear shiny leggings?

How do quarterbacks get so good at making caveman-like sounds before each play? Do they train for this? What are they really saying? Is this English we’re hearing?

Meltaways

While we ponder these deep thoughts about football, let’s talk about Meltaways (p. 98). Even though we successfully made these cookies, I’m still not sure I understand what they’re supposed to look like. I found this recipe for peppermint meltaways (which sound amazing), and they are little round coin-shaped cookies with a dollop of what appears to be peppermint-flavored icing, so it appears we were on the right track anyway.

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Anyhow, it’s a butter cookie, and then chocolate is melted on the top once the cookies are baked. It can never hurt to add chocolate to your basic butter cookie, right?

Here’s the final product. They are the little tiny ones!

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Appetizers – Spinach Balls

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Thankful

As I’m writing this, it’s the night before Thanksgiving Day. I’m so glad Jacob made it home safely, and is here for a few days with us. I’m thankful for my family, near and far, for my church family at Redeemer, for my friends and loved ones scattered around the country. I’m counting my blessings, truly grateful for all of the things in my life that God has challenged or blessed me with. I’m thankful mostly for the gift of God’s Son, whose loving sacrifice makes my life rich and full and beautiful–and forgiven.

And for you, dear reader, I am thankful for you, that you’ve stuck with me through this goofy church year cookbook experiment! Happy Thanksgiving!

Spinach Balls

These are easy and tasty! They’ll look nice on a dish, warmed and ready for company. Plus there’s the added bonus of knowing you’re eating spinach, so it seems like health food even though the butter probably negates some of the good nutritional value! 🙂

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It’s a spinach, bread crumb, parmesan cheese, egg, and butter mixture. That’s it! You have to thaw and squeeze out the spinach. I must say, that seemed sort of strange. It felt like I’m squeezing out my dish sponge, when actually it’s food I’m going to put into my mouth. But there you have it.

Basically, this is a throw-everything-together-and-then-bake-it sort of a deal.

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It’s hard to tell if the balls are actually cooked (so I don’t actually know if this picture is from pre-baking or post-) but 10-12 minutes cooks them up. I’m serving this as an appetizer for Thanksgiving Day.

Salads – Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Cooking Fail

So on Sunday afternoon, I was feeling like cooking or baking, and now with all of the cookies finished (more to come soon on that), I thought I’d work ahead for Thanksgiving and make Donna H.’s Strawberry Pretzel Salad (p. 15). Before I settled on making the salad, though, I had a fairly epic baking failure.

So at the last cooking club, these cooking geniuses all showed up at the library with their amazing Thanksgiving dishes to inspire our own holidays. One woman brought Parker House Rolls. They melted in your mouth–like butter! They were so delicious!

I said to someone, “I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try this recipe,” and my friend responded, “What’s there to be afraid of? You’ve got the recipe all laid out for you.”

Well, there’s a lot to be afraid of when you’re kind of a disaster-waiting-to-happen like me.

Recently, I heard a description of what happens when an airplane crashes. Most of the time, the author said, the pilot is blamed for the final mistake, but often the fault can be laid at a series of small mishaps and errors made by a variety of people. The co-pilot might spill his coffee on the control panel, and then when the tech is called in, he doesn’t notice that another part of the panel shorted out. Once aloft, they run into a storm, and lightning strikes the plane. This isn’t always a big deal, but because part of the controls were already compromised, it causes major problems. And then when the pilot turns left instead of right, an engine fails, and the flight is doomed.

I think this is how it is with most things, and is definitely true for me in my cooking when one mistake after another piles up to a giant snowball of cooking failure.

My first error? I didn’t study the recipe carefully to see how much yeast to buy. So I was trying to do my best to halve the recipe.

My next task after figuring out the math was to proof the yeast. So I heated water to the just-right temperature, between 110-120 degrees. I heated it in the microwave for a little too long, so I added some cold water, and bam–I got 118 degrees. Okay, ready!

So I dumped my yeast packets in the water and started stirring, only after I realized I had not measured the water. I had dumped all of my yeast into what amounted to about 3 times the amount of water I needed. Sheesh…

Well, there went that recipe down the tubes.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

So, instead, I decided to make the strawberry salad (p. 15). I assumed when I started this recipe that it was similar to the strawberry cream cheese salad my family makes, which is basically a strawberry jello salad with chunks of cream cheese added. Yum.

But this one is more of a layered deal. First step is to crush the pretzels. I just sort of squooshed them in a plastic bag. Hopefully I got them crushed enough.

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Then, combine pretzels with some sugar and butter. By the way, butter is not in this recipe, so I added 4 T, and that seemed to be enough. Press the mixture into the bottom of a pan (I used a 9×9 pan and only made 3/4 of the recipe since our family is small) and bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 min.

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Then the creamy layer of sugar, whipped topping, and cream cheese is added. This layer could definitely be lightened up. It calls for a full cup of sugar–I think half of that would do just fine.

 

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This layer is followed by the frozen strawberries and jello.

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And here’s the finished product. Looks great, eh? Once is sets, it’ll be perfect for our Thanksgiving dinner, along with cranberry sauce.

Cookies – Lemon Bars

The Amazing Spotify

In the last two days, my musical tastes have really run the gamut–from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to Puccini and Mozart. And Spotify has allowed me play whatever my little heart desires.  If you haven’t yet checked it out, it’s worth it.

I decided to go on an opera jag on Friday because of Endeavour, my newest British TV fav. Since it appears Wallander will never ever have any more episodes (or only renews about every two years), I had to branch out.

In Endeavour, the main character, a young Inspector Morse is portrayed always listening to opera while he’s brilliantly solving crimes. So I figure maybe it’ll help me solve whatever issues are currently plaguing me, you know, things like:

– is it possible for me to burn boiled eggs? (Oh my, yes.)

– is my cats’ meowing a real sign that they need to be fed, or are they just playing mind games with me?

– when will Wallander ever produce any new episodes!?

…and other deep thoughts.

Seriously, though, I wonder if anyone has done a study on the effect of music on a person’s writing. I mean, we all know about the Mozart effect, and the craze in the 90s to play Mozart and Bach to unborn children. And truly, when my mind is all scattered and flustered, a nice violin concerto can calm me down and help me to focus.

But what about opera?

Well, that’s a topic for another day, but for now, here’s a look at Kenji, whose turned-back ears show he’s not loving this aria!

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Lemon Bars

Well, now our effort has become a multi-state endeavor! My mom made the lemon bars this week–hooray! I didn’t ask if she made any high-altitude adjustments. The elevation in Colorado is high enough to have to make adjustments to most recipes, but perhaps with this since it’s not a cake or bread that needs to rise it was okay without.

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She said the recipe (p. 95) makes about 4 dozen, and one thing you might want to keep in mind if you try the recipe is that she found she had a bit more crust dough than was needed, and a bit too little of the lemon topping.

And here’s the finished product. Thank you, Mom and Dad for your help!! 🙂

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Cookies – Mincemeat Cookies

End of the Church Year

church yearThis past Sunday in church, we celebrated the last day of the church year. Some churches call this Christ the King Sunday; others simply call it Last Sunday of the Church year (so creative).

Either way, it marks the end of the flow of the church seasons–from Advent to Christmastide, from Epiphany to Lent, from Easter to Pentecost. It provides a lovely rhythm to year, as we mark the seasons by the events in the life of Christ and the life of the church.

On Thanksgiving Eve, we will celebrate with our church family the national holiday of Thanksgiving. This is one of the few (only?) holidays that is not an official church calendar holiday since the holiday is localized to the U.S. However, it’s a long tradition in the U.S. Lutheran church to celebrate Thanksgiving with a church service. That seems appropriate to me–before we sit down with the people we love over a meal of turkey and stuffing, we go to church to say thank You to God.

Redeemer used to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day, but a couple of years ago, the Turkey Trot, the annual 5K race held in Elmhurst, changed their course so that it nears the church. Members of the congregation would have had a very difficult time getting to Redeemer, so we changed our church celebration to the evening before.

Anyhow, Thanksgiving provides us an excellent opportunity to reflect back on our lives, to number our blessings, to thank God for the many ways He provides for us in body and spirit.

This Thanksgiving at the Stiegemeyer house is also quite exciting because we welcome Jacob home! Hooray! It’s been almost 2 months since we’ve seen him, and I’m not ashamed to say I put a “Welcome home Jacob!” sign on the front door.

I had a weird moment last night as I was brushing my teeth. I looked around the bathroom and wondered, “Huh, do I clean my house when my own child is returning home?” Normally when we would have houseguests I’d wipe down surfaces, dust, vacuum, etc. But he’s not a houseguest. He’s coming home. But hey, the sink needed cleaning anyhow, so I gave it a swirl.

Mincemeat Cookies

Giant baking extravaganza day arrived last Saturday! About seven girls from the youth group and I gathered in the Redeemer Center to work on the last 4 cookies remaining in the cookbook. We’re going to welcome back the young people in our congregation who we’ve been missing as they’re off to college and other pursuits, and we thought we’d do so with a small reception after our Thanksgiving Eve service.

To prepare for the reception, I decided we’d make the remaining recipes from the cookie section of the cookbook. First up: Mincemeat Cookies!

I must say that the “meat” part of this name sounds a bit odd, so of course I did a little digging, and found that mincemeat goes back to the 11th century, according to this website, which reports that the three main spices in mince pies–cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg–were to represent the three gifts of the wise men who came to see the Christ child.

Before reading the recipe (p. 98), I wondered if these would be like pecan pie bars, or something of that sort–like a mini-pie with a crust baked in the bottom of the pan and then spread with a filling. Nope! These mix the mincemeat right into the dough, plus extra raisins for extra yumminess.

Here’s a photo of Carli hard at work on the cookies:

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She’s not only a baking phenom, but also bailed me out–not once but twice! I forgot my electric mixer and oats. She went home to fetch the items–thank you, Carli!

Anyhow, these cookies taste sort of like a raisin spice cookie. They’re quite tasty! Of the four we made that day, this was my favorite. The dough was too soft, so I should have had the girls add in some more flour, but hey, we were like machines just plugging through these four remaining recipes and had to keep it moving!

More photos will follow of the finished cookies. We made all the cookies, assembled trays, and then stored them in the church refrigerator, so I’ll have to take more pics on Thanksgiving eve.

Thank you to the girls for helping, to Kelly for the mincemeat, and to Stacie P. for this interesting recipe!

Breads and Rolls – Monkey Bread

Loss

You know by now that my dog of 13 years died this week. I know, she was only a dog. But she was also a close companion.

I’ve heard people describe grief as “gut-wrenching.” To me it’s not so much wrenching as it is hollowing. Gut-hollowing doesn’t sound very literary though, does it? Sometimes, though, I think about never seeing Lucy’s sweet happy face again, and…well, I have no good metaphors for you. I just miss her.

But the thing about loss is not only the immediate finality and all-around suckiness of death. It’s not even that I’m just sad because Lucy is gone. It’s like all of our losses swirl around and circle back upon each other, compounding and growing.

My hurt is not just missing my sweet dog who brought me so much happiness, every day of her life, and for many years of mine. It’s also missing my grandparents, the children I could never have, my upcoming empty nest. It all sort of rolls together into this messy rat’s nest of hurt and emptiness and loss.

This isn’t the way it’s meant to be. We feel that down to our bones. Sweet, loving dogs aren’t meant to leave their families. They aren’t meant to stay home and lay on the floor, legs arthritic and full of pain, while their favorite person goes on a walk alone. They aren’t meant to go to the vet and never come home again.

They’re meant to run in the surf of Lake Michigan and play hide and seek and chase after little boys and go on long walks and scare away whole flocks of geese, honking into the sunset. They’re meant to freak out the cats and chase squirrels into trees and gobble up peanut butter and curl up with their favorite person on a nice soft sofa.

Is Lucy doing these things in heaven? I don’t know. I hope so. I hope that this week was national Golden Retriever week in heaven, just because Lucy arrived there. My husband pointed me to this piece about C.S. Lewis’ opinion about dogs and heaven. I like it.

What I do know is that God is in the business of taking bad things and making them good–though, as the Old Testament figure of Joseph learned–sometimes those good things come awfully far down the road. So in the meantime, while I’m waiting for those good things to come along, I’ll be cuddling with my kitties (as much as they’ll let me) and hoping for brighter days.

Monkey Bread
As a thank you to my coworkers for covering for me while I’ll be away on vacation, I made monkey bread (p. 70) for them. It’s easy to make–just use pre-made buttermilk biscuits, cut them into quarters, and roll in cinnamon sugar. I’m going to leave the nuts off because of allergies.

I had bisquick at home, so I used that instead of buying the tubes of biscuits. I don’t know if that made a difference in the result. These sort of remind me of the Apple Pie Bites, I made waaaayy back last winter.

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Final note: Does anyone have any spare zucchini or tomatoes they would like to part with? I wish I could say that I am a gardener. I’m really not, but I know that some of you out there are! If anyone has zucchinis or tomatoes they want to give up, I’ve got a bunch of recipes to get through. I’d love to get to them in the middle of August.

P.S. Latest remaining count of recipes: 112.

Cookies – Chocolate Crinkles, Take 1

Potlucks, Door Offerings, and Singing

The last three days have been enriching, enlivening, inspiring as I’ve worked with and enjoyed the company of 10 other Lutheran writers. The workshop was like this perfect gift, wrapped up in a perfect bow for me. I’ve written and published work for about 16 years, and what a joy to be able to share what I’ve learned with this group of women. We laughed, we learned, we wrote.

Because we are a group of Lutheran women, we engaged in typical Lutheran activities: we had a potluck (several people brought lunch items), a door offering (for those who couldn’t carry lunch items on the plane), we talked about law and gospel, and we sang. I asked for volunteers to lead morning and evening devotions, and without even suggesting it, of course each of them brought hymns to sing. So we sang with gusto, and even broke into harmony!

I’ve spoken to a variety of groups over the years, but never led an entire workshop like this, so it was new and exciting territory for me. It was busy for sure, but a good busy, full of lively discussion.

And I’ll probably have some bonus recipes for you soon! One woman brought a delicious white chili and another a bean salad and orange/chocolate cookies. So I’ll try to secure those recipes and get permission to put them up here.

I gave them three writing assignments, which they all embraced. The first was an exercise in audience. I suggested they write about the meaning of Easter for a variety of venues—something for different ages, for a church newsletter, for Reader’s Digest, for a local paper.

The second was sort of fun. I had read about fairy tale story starters being placed on cubes. On one cube, you put characters: a queen, a rabbit, a witch, a child. On the next cube, you add a setting: a dark forest, a castle, a pumpkin patch. On the third, you add a conflict. I adapted it to devotional writing. In one envelope I had bible passages. In another I had common objects. The silliest one was Pat’s—a snow shovel and Matt. 5:28, which is about the lust of the eye and the unfaithfulness of the heart. Her neighbor got a ripe juicy pear, so we all figured they needed to trade. Ha! Each one put together some thoughts in totally unique and interesting settings.

The third challenge I thought up once we arrived at the hotel. In the conference center, copies of artwork by famous artists lined the hallways, so I suggested they choose an inspiring piece and write about it.

Here’s what I wrote:

***

The woman slumped in the chair, her white chiffon dress spilling onto the Oriental rug.

He’d left her.

She remembered her English teacher describing the nuance of the term forlorn. Not only lonely. Abandoned too.

The bright scene outside her window mocked her in its cheery disposition. She sat, tear-stained, dress-wrinkled. Forlorn. Yet all she could think about was the tenor of his voice, the gentleness of his hand, the piercing brightness of his green eyes. His face turned away, his back to her, walking on to a new life. A life without her.

Can beauty reside alongside sorrow? she wondered. Can the picture of this moment encompass the weight of her heart? Can sorrow inspire? Somehow she hoped the answer was yes.

***

It’s always amazing to me how art inspires art. A brief viewing of this scene by Matisse inspired a character’s story that I dreamed up. I don’t know where it came from or where it will go, but it was fun to join in the inspiration!

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Chocolate Crinkles

It’s time for my monthly care packages to send to my niece, nephews, and give to Jacob, so I’m making a big batch of these chocolate crinkles. I like Hershey’s dark chocolate cocoa, so I’ll use that for the recipe. It calls for a LOT of cocoa–a cup per batch.

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Here it is with the cocoa, sugar, and oil. Then I added the eggs.

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Look at that dark chocolate goodness!

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It got so stiff and thick that it sucked the beaters right out of the mixer! I may have added an extra 1/2 cup of flour. I think I got confused as I was measuring. And then I refrigerated the dough overnight.

Sadness

Well, I think it’s fairly certain that I mis-measured as I was putting together the ingredients yesterday. My cookies came out kind of like hard chocolate balls. Blech. So I will need to start over when I have more time and energy. It was a double bummer since I doubled the recipe, but these things happen. Along with my failed cookies, the laundry room drain also backed up, so we had 2 inches of water in the laundry room after I did a load of laundry. And then the cat got out (Dewey of course, but thankfully I caught him fairly quickly). And then Lucy was skunked the other night, so we’re still recovering from that, cleaning and Febreezing every couple of hours. So cookies will have to wait for another day.

Main Dish – Beef Stroganoff

If you live in or around Milwaukee, you probably know about Kopp’s. And if you know about Kopp’s, you know about creamy deliciousness in the form of frozen custard. Frozen custard is a lot like ice cream but creamier and more fabulous.

On the last night of our writers’ workshop, Deb suggested we take a field trip to Kopp’s. Their flavors of the day were carmel cashew and German apple streudel. All of us sampled the carmel cashew. It was packed with flavor–and cashews. Sweet, salty yumminess.

The place was huge, and at almost 10 o’clock on a cold Thursday night in March, it was packed. Deb said wait until August on a nice summer evening.

Hamburger Stroganoff

This is the type of recipe I expect in a church cookbook. Affordable, simple, and hearty. I have a similar recipe called Hamburger Stew–veggies and hamburger in a beefy sauce, but without the noodles.

The stroganoff recipe calls for Kluski noodles. I wasn’t sure if this was a particular brand or type of noodle, so I looked it up. It’s a type of polish noodle, related to pierogis. I learned about pierogis while we lived in Pittsburgh, a type of polish dumpling–sort of like an eastern European type of ravioli.

I found the noodles, with Kluski on the package, so I grabbed those, but probably any egg noodle would do. This was a great Friday night dinner! Thank you, Sally!

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Vegetables – Marinated Vegetables

I apologize in advance for being a grammar snob

I really try not to be a grammar snob. The different spellings of there/their/they’re and your/you’re are a bugaboo. I get it. English is an oddity, no doubt about it. Sometimes, though, I just can’t stop myself. I blurt out “fewer!” when someone says “less” incorrectly. I say, “are you sure you want to spell it that way?” when I see a glaring typo.

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I see mistakes in advertisements all the time, including this one from Jewel. So here’s the rule about “fewer” and “less.”

Use “fewer” with a countable noun as in:

fewer calories

fewer cat hairs on my pants

fewer items (not less)

Use “less” when the items are noncountable:

less snow

less water

less coffee (but fewer cups of coffee)

So, Jewel, as much as I love your Monopoly game and many choices of canned tomatoes, I’m afraid to say that I must be a grammar snob and tell you the sign should read “fewer” items, not “less.” Here is Grammar Girl’s summary–a good one.

Marinated Vegetables

I had a little bit of time before leaving for my writing workshop this week, so I decided to whip together this easy dish. The longest part of this dish prep was chopping the veggies; after that it was easy. What a great way to get some more healthy veggies in our diet!

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Here are the veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, pepper, mushrooms, and celery, combined with an easy marinade:

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…that begins with sugar (I used half Splenda), ground mustard, salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar.

Aside: I always have wondered when recipes call for “vinegar” but don’t specify which type, what should I use? I assume it’s either white or apple cider vinegar. Is that a correct assumption?

Anyhow, I used apple cider vinegar in this recipe and it came out nicely.

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Here are the veggies all marinaded up.

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…which I served with the baked spaghetti. Great meal!

This recipe (p. 29) came from Naomi P. who was a long-time teacher at a local middle school. Her specialty was social studies. She’s also been a Sunday school teacher at our church for almost 50 years. No, that was most certainly NOT a typo. 50! What a gem! Thank you for this contribution, Naomi, and for all of your years of service to the kids of our church.